Germany can impose residency restrictions on some of the migrants it takes in if doing so helps with their integration, the European Union's top court ruled Tuesday, as Berlin considers extending the practice to help deal with the recent refugee surge.
Europe has been struggling to respond to an influx of migrants and asylum seekers over the last year, including people fleeing the war in Syria. Tuesday's ruling relates to two Syrians who arrived far earlier, in 1998 and 2001.
Germany granted them subsidiary protection - awarded to people who do not qualify for asylum but are thought to be at risk in their home country - as well as welfare benefits. But their residency permits were tied to specific locations in Germany.
Berlin has argued that this practice helps to distribute the cost of welfare benefits evenly and makes it easier for people to integrate into German society.
German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere now wants to extend such residency restrictions to all refugees in Germany who have no job and cannot cover their own living expenses, for a period of up to three years.
"I think a residency allocation for refugees is urgently necessary, to prevent the creation of ghettos in urban areas," de Maiziere said following Tuesday's verdict. In his opinion, the court ruling showed that the practice was in line with EU law.
The European Court of Justice found that member states can determine the residency of people who face particular integration difficulties, compared to other non-EU citizens living in the country.
But it is illegal under EU law to do so in order to distribute the burden of welfare costs, the judges said.
The Luxembourg-based judges referred the case back to the German court handling the case. It must now determine whether the Syrian complainants face higher integration hurdles than other non-EU nationals living in the country.